New Ways of Implementing a New Strategy: “Managed Retreat” (300 words)

By Allen Kratz, Principal, Resilience Works, LLC

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Managed retreat

Challenge: Create a better upland life for community members displaced from repetetively flooded waterfront homes.

Multimodal transit options can help create new community, notes a transportation policy expert.

When shoreline dwellings repeatedly suffer weather-related flooding, public officials face a dilemma:  rebuild or not?  “Not” is what experts call “managed retreat,” using public money to buy private properties, leveling them and returning newly vacant land to its former function of absorbing excess rain and coastal storm surges.

Good policy -- needlessly tainted by negative language.  “Retreat” says “surrender,” and only worse than managed retreat would be chaotic retreat!  Neither is needed.  Instead of giving up, let’s institute moving up. How? 

Of course, sellers of low-lying dwellings move up to higher ground.  Today’s new concept of “moving up” also requires public officials to create new public policies to ensure that displaced residents enjoy a higher quality of life.

Take transportation.  An important civic service is safe, convenient, reliable, affordable transportation.  Key to upgrading the lives of community members displaced from waterfront property is ensuring high-quality multimodal options:  pedestrian paths, bike-sharing, bike lanes, car sharing, express buses, improved rail and subway service, says transportation expert Stewart Mader, who has written for the Mobility Lab research group.

That form of new attention to community building has good precedents.  America’s legal system already enforces equitable compensation for land condemned for a public purpose.  Land-use law recognizes transferring development rights from a valuable community resource (like Grand Central Terminal) to a receiving area that offers bonuses for a property owner who loses the right to develop a “preservation area.”

“Managed retreat” generates intense emotions – understandably.  All the more reason for community members, chief resilience officers, planners and public officials to find new ways -- like upgrading transportation -- to create new community for those who have sold their homes and business in the face of climate change.  Onward and upward.  There’s no retreating from the important task of building community!